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The Vinalhaven Sightings Report is organized and edited by Kirk Gentalen on behalf of Vinalhaven Land Trust and Maine Coast Heritage Trust. Out and about on Vinalhaven, MCHT steward Kirk Gentalen reports on what he and others have seen in their travels. Contributions of stories and photos are welcome, and can be sent to


Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Welcome to the Vinalhaven Sightings Report

April 21, 2015

…with the helpful sponsorship of VLT and MCHT


Highlights – woodcocks, killdeer, fox sparrow, eastern towhee, flickers and other wood peckers, belted kingfisher, great blue heron, osprey, harriers, kestrel, harlequin ducks, great cormorants, palm warbler, winter wren, hermit thrush, brown creeper, ruby-crowned and golden-crowned kinglets, mystery webbing, mink, otter, salamanders, snakes,


Business – Contact us – check out all the tasty photos that were sent in for this post! Imagine your photos right here in the mix. You feel better about your life already, I know. So send in your sightings and photos to . And feel better about your life.


American woodcock
photo by Karen Oakes
Another year, another website…getting all geared up to get out to the islands and check out some birdies and the such? Well, then you gotst to check out John Drury’s new website (#2 for those keeping track at home) - . So check it out and reserve your spot on a boat trip before they are all gone!


Sightings - What a year for woodcocks! (is there ever a “bad year” for woodcocks?). they are everywhere, and not just out on Vinalhaven apparently. Good to hear! And here are a few amazing woodcock photos Karen Oakes took recently – right in her back yard! (I think…maybe).


American woodcock
photo by Karen Oakes
--news flash – I did my good deed for the year this morning and brought the school announcements to the Wind. While I was there “the wind women” or “the women of the wind” gossiped to me (well, told me really) that Karen’s woodcock shot made it onto the Cornell Lab of Ornithology website.Gossiping Wind Women are far from the most trustworthy” (ancient Estonian proverb) – and far from the least trustworthy characters I have met as well (sorry botanists!) – so I checked it out for myself and behold its true! Here’s the link – check it out!

photo by Karen Oakes

And so congrats to Karen with her great wildlife photos! And here are some more shots Karen sent in recently. !

Fox Sparrow
photo by Karen Oakes

American Tree Sparrow
photo by Karen Oakes


Thanks for sharing Karen! Keep ‘em coming!


Squirrel Feeding
photo by Karen Oakes
One warbler – (4/16) Ocean view road – Palm Warbler – so we lied – one warbler here.


Pileated Woodpecker
photo by Erin Creelman

Wharf Quarry Road(4/12 – recent) Erin Creelman sent in these shots of a Pileated Woodpecker near the beginning of Wharf Quarry Road. Andy Creelman confirmed the authenticity of the photos and commented recently that they still have been seeing and hearing the woodpecker. Pileateds, while numerous and quite pleasant on the mainland, are an uncommon sight out here, with one a year spotted if that. And they are often pleasant when spotted.
pileated giving the cold shoulder
photo by Erin Creelman


Erin also reports Great Horned Owl activity along Wharf Quarry Road.


Niall Conlan sent in these shots of some deer activity out towards the end of Wharf Quarry Road. These “digging in the dirt” kind of scrapes have been observed with somewhat regularity around the island  over the last few years, leading to much speculation as it what the deer are looking for. Or maybe they are just playful, and that’s how deer play – by digging in the dirt. If this was done by an otter it would be interpreted as play!

when deer scrape
photo by Niall Conlan

Anyway, in these particular scrapes Niall found these “tuber like things” that might make a tasty treat for a hungry deer. Looks juicy on the inside! Lots of animals will dig for roots, bulbs and truffles (false truffles in our case – but don’t tell the fungus that!) and after a pretty tough winter for the deer I bet that sniffin’ out those fresh bulbs and mackin’ ‘em must have hit the spot! Thanks for sending Niall!
these almost look yummy
photo by Niall Conlan


photo by Niall Conlan

While we’re there – wharf quarry road – (4/11) Belted Kingfisher, Great Blue Heron – both first of the season for me, or a seasonal VNM. But that kind of defeats the purpose of the VNM in the first place. Anyway….
Fox Sparrow
photo by Sally Conway


Skin Hill Sally sent in these photos of Killdeer and Fox Sparrow from “up in the hood”. Nice shots and thanks for sharing!

Who’s singing – Brown Creeper (Huber, long cove), Winter Wren (long cove), Hermit Thrush (Huber, long cove) Chickadees, Purple Finch (lane’s), Song Sparrow, Red-breasted Nuthatch, Goldfinch, Junco, White-crowned Sparrow, Cardinals, golden-crowned Kinglet eastern towhee and spring peepers of course! First heard/reported on the woodcock walk (4/11)!
Killdeer catchin' and mackin'
photo by Sally Conway


Fallout – impressive numbers of Killdeer, Song sparrow, Woodcocks, Robins observed around the island.

Ambrust Hill - (4/18) Garter Snake!

photo by Karen Oakes

are so cool
photo by Karen Oakes
Lane’s Island – sea watch – made a few late season watches. Usually just a half an hour 6:30 – 7am. (4/5) 80 Black Scoters, 5 White-winged Scoter, 4 Great Cormorants, 2 Red-breasted Merganser. Also phoebe, killdeer, common loon, common eider, black guillemot, Oldtailed Duck…. (4/11) 3 Great Cormorants, 1 Red-necked Grebe, 3 Black Guillemots, 83 Black Scoters, 143 Common Eiders, 1 Surf Scoter, 31 Purple Sandpipers…(4/12) 134 Common Eider, 92 Black Scoter, 3 White-winged Scoter, 6 Oldtailed Ducks. Also Red-winged Blackbirds, Purple Finch singing, lots of song sparrows…(4/19) 42 Double-crested Cormorants. And an Eastern Towhee singing – drink your teaaaaa!

otter on ice
photo by Ali McCarthy

Otters – Ali McCarthy took this shot of a solo otter on the ice in Carver’s pond. Johnny McCarthy mentioned it looked pretty big (pictures can be tough to judge size from), and since it was solo (and big) it might be Oscar, the lone otter that goes between Greens and Norton’s Point. Maybe – either way it’s cool! Thanks for sending in the photo!


otter trail from the pond
Otter trails – found this otter slide by the pond along Wharf Quarry Road. Also – two otters crossed from Old Harbor Pond to the Sands during that recent thick, wet snow. This is a traditional otter crossing, but no otters crossed for Feb/March as the snow was too deep. Good to see them crossing again!
Trip to Calderwood - (4/15) Rough-legged Hawk, Norther Harrier, American Kestrel, Osprey, Bald Eagle, Harlequin Ducks, Great Cormorants. And of course - Calderwood sheep!




the webs look something like this
Mystery Web – everyone likes a good mystery (except for the person in the story who gets killed). One mystery that has recently been solved was called the “what does my yard look like?” mystery. The retreating seasonal glaciers (oxymoron) have exposed a wondrous labyrinth of vole tunnels that have been documented ad nausea in the previous VSR post! This is a yearly occurrence to some degree, and this year’s degree of vole tunneling is impressively higher than most other years.


Anyway, in many places around the island the retreating seasonal glaciers have also exposed a layer of what appears to be some sort webbing. Makes you wonder what the hell was going on under all that snow for so long? It’s all part of the mystery.

coming right out from under the snow

What we know – snow can be a buffer from harsh weather for animals. The thicker the snow, the thicker the buffer. This year’s snow was a bumper buffer. They call the world below the snow “the subnivean”, but I’ve never heard it refer to itself as that. It stays somewhat warm in the subnivean zone, around 32 degrees, no matter what kind of windy coolness is going on above. As for snow I’ve read that to have a “minimum subnivean” you need at least 6 inches but I have no further comment on that.


Anyway – what we don’t know (we being the lower case, royal “we”) is if the subnivean sticks around as it gets warmer above does it (the subnivean) warm up over time? Warm enough for a spider or some sort of cold blooded critter to cruise around and pump out some web. I mean, as it got warmer out here – in the real world!- and the snow didn’t go anywhere could it have gotten warm enough for undersnow cold blooded activity. Doesn’t take too much warmth for snow fleas to get going, other insect species must have been chomping at the bit to get moving – which probably looks like an insect sleeping. 
this is not webbing, but owl pellets are cool


I wonder if it started to really smell like a pet store after the second month, with all those voles and such.


Anyway – any thoughts on the webbing? Maybe not from a creature at all? Not from an earthly creature that is!  

I bet skunk cabbage tastes like spraint!

tracking the wild honey mushroom
its right there


found this dude - lead back phase of a red-backed salamander
in the snow! I didn't put it there! that would be cruel.

62 spotted salamanders are like a gang
Salamander Drive 2015! (4/18) the exploratory drive turned up 62 spotted salamanders on one pass around Round the Island Road! Huge night, it wasn’t even that warm, but these manders were so ready! Hundreds, maybe thousands must have crossed the road that night. In my limited experience most years these guys are crossing the road by April 1st  (at the latest) but I guess it’s hard to boogie when you are under 2 feet of snow!


 (4/20) With Sophia in town and rain on the forecast we hit the road for some “mandering” this week. A total of 13 spotted salamanders (and two tadpoles in the ditch!) were seen on two passes of Round the Island Road (including the ride home). Quite a difference from two nights prior, but still so exciting! Half the fun was the salamander dances in the headlights!


dancing in the street

And that’s where we are going to leave it. Lots more birdies coming with this storm! More warmth too!


Hope this VSR found you doing well. We look forward to bumping into you out in the woods!

Friday, April 10, 2015

woodcock walk changed again

hey -

its raining. lets do the woodcock walk tomorrow night -

Saturday, April 11. 7pm at the Lane's Parking lot.

at least 6 males displaying on the snow last night - it was quite lovely.

Friday, April 3, 2015

Welcome to the vinalhaven sightings report

April 3rd, 2015

No foolin’ – thanks for the support of MCHT and VLT


 Highlights – snow fleas, estrus, dead saw-whets, woodcocks and postponement of a woodcock walk, wormin' gulls, mushrooms,

In memoriam- Before we get into it, we all know the island community has lost some important members in the last few weeks. Our hearts and thoughts go out to family and friends of those who have passed.

 I have to say I am at a loss about Carol Petillo. Such a wonderful person and friend. A passionate animal lover who was the “president of the coyote fan club” from back in the coyote years. It’s always a shame to lose a Carol, a Linda, or a Ruth, but this one feels just feels worse. Thanks for everything Carol.  Miss you.


Business – Contact ussend us your sightings and photos –


Tiit trick – click on the photos to enlarge.


Upcoming Events - Woodcock Walk postponed! Of course there are woodcocks out there, but we are still postponing, or “putting off” the woodcock walk till next Friday – April 10th at 7pm, Lane’s Island parking lot. The main display area on lane’s where we watch hopeful males “peent” is still under a lot of snow, and trail conditions are “not too groovy”, or maybe a “little too groovy” for bringing a group just yet. Conditions will most assuredly be better for observation and trudging on the 10th . I mean who’s ever heard of snow in April anyway?


That said, I am still going to go this Saturday (the 4th), even though the official walk is not till next Friday (the 10th). Anyone who still wants to go this Saturday (4/4) is welcome to join – 7pm either in the parking lot or at the beginning of the driveway. The walk is postponed but the woodcocks don’t know that.


some not too old Turkey Tail at Huber.
Basin Clean-upSunday, April 12th at 9am. Bring some work gloves, we’ll have some bags! Let’s fill ‘em up (the bags that is)! Meet at skoog park to carpool.


Sightings – kind of a quickie VSR – was originally just going to mention the woodcock walk postponement. But while we’re here we’ve got some sightings to process. Here we go…


when the sun looks like this its soon time
to get to your woodcock spots.
Woodcocks -  (as mentioned above) – (3/31) Reach Road Hill, 2 woodcocks “peenting” their little hearts out….(4/1) Lane’s – maybe it’s because we postponed the woodcock walk, but this evening was the best I have seen on lane’s in a long time. The snow made for limited habitat for the woodcocks to “peent” which resulted in male woodcocks being stacked upon each other (and not in the good way). They must have just rolled in, and as the numbers increased and the scene escalated my high count of males peenting and displaying at one time was 7 (personal woodcock record).  There were several other woodcocks flying low through the zone (females? Or “loser”/”not winner yet” males?). There was a ton of “kekkkkkkkk”ing – the woodcock aggressive encounter vocalization – on the ground, a couple of mid air battles, and about a dozen “lower than tree line” fly-bys and aggressive defenses of territories. All while the “good” ones (“good” being territories that have been used consistently over the years) are still under snow! This was the spraint, the best woodcock crepuscular scene I have ever seen. In my life. ….(4/2) got off the boat and over to Lane’s with Amy and Leif to see the little peenters and get some scope views of Venus and that phat Moon. We were not disappointed on any count, 7 males peenting and displaying, a couple close fly-bys on a chilly night.  


Woodcocks also reported from Greens Island reported by John Drury.

 wormin' gulls at Indian Creek! check out the video -

squirrel spring cleaning
Shags – personal first of the season double crested cormorants (group of 5) east over Louds Quarry. Spring is here, so are the shags. 4 more this morning (4/3) by the Ferry Terminal.


Turkey Vulture – while waiting for the boat to Calderwood, a Turkey Vulture crossed the thorofare from North Haven to Vinalhaven. Spring is here.
and a snack break


Walk to school – Ball field – (3/30) 4 Red-winged Blackbirds, Grackles.

out with the old moss

with snow fleas

This week’s magic word is Subnivean


Definition thanks to Merriam-websters - situated or occurring under the snow <subnivean burrows and runways


so it is official – the yard, and most other yards on island – were under snow for the entire months of Feb and March. As things gradually melt what a world of activity is being exposed!


A vole world of tunnels, dens and chewed up areas. So much activity the mink (pl) must have been shakin’ their heads in confusion when hunting! (that was anthropomorphic and not based on any knowledge of mink actually shaking their heads in confusion. so we apologize).


I wonder if the fresh air feels good to them. I mean, the voles go to the bathroom in the subnivean snow too. Probably didn’t need to mention that.


Owls don’t have much of a chance of catching voles when the snow is so deep, so that was one pressure that was reduced. On the other hand, once again, and ad nausea - it was a fantastic winter for island mink, and tunnels and burrows may or may not have made for easy pickin’s  for the predator. If they could find the tunnels. Which they are probably good at. Anyway.
subnivial "y"


Lots of chases, living and some dying surely went on in these tunnels. Fun to see those secrets from the last few months.


Saw-whets on Lane’s – or another one bites the dust. Saw-whets are coming thru and something is eating them on Lane’s! (3/31) The remains of a second “macked” saw-whet owl were found in the meadowy area by the graveyard (spooky, no?). Two weeks after the first saw-whet remains were found, this one being ripped apart/eaten in the meadow makes me think Short-eared Owl, but I always think short-eared owls in that meadow. I have now seen 2 dead saw-whets and 1 live saw-whet on Lane’s. Ever. In my life.


Saw-whet – Josh Clayter also reports finding a dead saw-whet owl on island.


Been seeing a lot of Raccoons lately – or at least a few.

Also saw this horse the other day while walking to the ferry (4/2).
Calderwood sheep


Singers – or Funky Tweeters – Cardinals – like crazy in town – Black-capped Chickadee, Red-breasted Nuthatch, Song Sparrow.


Hairy and Downy Woodpeckers are quite loud these days. Ravens and crows as well (songbirds, but not tweeters – judgment!).  


 Juncos and White-throated Sparrows have shown up in some numbers.


Went to Calderwood to saw and check on the sheep. The three are doing great and were spotted mackin’ on grass that wwas inspired by the burn a few years back! Carol would have liked this.


And that might be it.


With the thaw Leif, Zo and I gathered bones from last year’s deer, and jumbo crab exoskeletons from the basin marsh.


leif and the deer the coyote trails led to
with gandma in the wings -upstate new york

Leif skiing and maybe some dead deer action.



Good times – and happy April everybody!